Slovenia on course to eliminate cervical cancer
Slovenia's longest-running population-based cancer screening programme, Zora, has helped prevent and detect cervical cancer in thousands of women since it was launched two decades ago. Officials are confident that the country is on track to root out the disease in the coming decades.
An average of 1,500 precancerous cases are detected a year, while only between 100 and 120 women in Slovenia are diagnosed with cervical cancer, of which 40 die, Urška Ivanuš, head of the Zora programme, told reporters at the Ljubljana Oncology Institute on 14 November.
"In combination with HPV vaccination, we may eliminate cervical cancer in the coming decades," Ivanuš said in reference to the human papillomavirus (HPV), the main cause of cervical cancer. "We hope to be among the first in Europe to succeed."
A total of 740,000 women have been screened as part of the programme, resulting in the detection and treatment of 33,500 cases of precancerous cervical lesions, as well as over 2,660 cases of cervical cancer.
On average, cervical lesions are detected some nine years sooner in women who take part in the programme compared to those who do not. As part of the programme, all women receive regular invitations for a PAP smear which is performed by their gynaecologist.
In general, the lesions detected in the Zora programme are in significantly earlier stages, which means that the patients' quality of life is also better than in those who are diagnosed later.
The early detection and treatment of precancerous lesions have more than halved the number of cervical cancer cases. But to eliminate the disease altogether, more people will have to decide to get vaccinated against HPV.
The programme has been run by the Ljubljana Oncology Institute since its inception, with the hospital's medical director Irena Oblak thanking all those involved, as well as the patients for their trust. Over 70% of women between the ages of 20 and 64 undergo a screening test every three years.
"The excellent results of the Zora programme were recognised by the World Health Organisation, which has singled out Slovenia as an example of best practice in transitioning from an occasional to organised screening programme," Public Health Directorate head Vesna Marinko said at the press conference marking the programme's 20th anniversary.